WASHINGTON -- Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has no qualms about running as a third party candidate, telling HuffPost in a recent interview he thinks Americans are so dissatisfied with their options that "Mickey Mouse would poll 15 percent against Obama and Romney." That's actually not as far-fetched as one might think.
According to a new poll, more than two-thirds of American voters would consider voting for a third party candidate and a full 48 percent say a third party is necessary. Throw in numbers like 22 percent of voters saying they would definitely vote for a third party candidate they agreed with and 28 percent saying they would flatly rule it out, and presidential frontrunners may have something to worry about.
“I think there's a real opportunity that a third party candidate could poll significantly enough to be on the stage in what would be the national debates," said Johnson, the former New Mexico governor. "I think that's a possibility, and if that happens, I would hope to be that third party nominee to be able to do that.”
A longtime proponent of marijuana legalization and drug policy reform, Johnson was vocally opposed to his exclusion from the Republican presidential debates when he was running as a Republican. He said he is continuing to stay in the race, after having switched to the Libertarian ticket, largely as a way to promote his socially liberal and fiscally conservative message.
"I'm asked the question," Johnson said, "'Aren't you going to take votes away from the Republicans?' My response is, 'Oh yeah, all those Republicans that want to see marijuana legalized and think Mitt Romney is going to accommodate that?"
Johnson also hopes to pick up the national dialogue where Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a fellow libertarian and a GOP presidential candidate, leaves off.
"It's not about the candidates," said Johnson, "it's about the message. I really think that, I wish Ron Paul the best. Ron Paul and I have some differences, I don't know how great ... but I don't think he's going to be the nominee. So this message, this agenda dies when he's through within the Republican primary."
Shortly after announcing he would run for president on the libertarian ticket, Johnson held a two-hour live chat with the Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia that had some people predicting he would make the repeal of marijuana prohibition a central pillar of his campaign.
But in his interview with HuffPost, Johnson distanced himself from that notion.
"No, it's never been central," he said of drug policy to his campaign, "but to me it's indicative of a whole bunch of other issues."
Johnson has instead made trimming federal spending his banner issue, laying out a blueprint for how to cut federal spending by 43 percent. Indeed in an election where jobs and the economy will loom large, a fiscal conservative founding his candidacy on spending cuts hardly comes as a surprise.
But as fiscally conservative politicians go, Johnson’s views are anything but vanilla.
“I believe that the fastest growing segment of the Republican party are those that are Libertarian-leaning,” Johnson said. “I have issues with the extreme right of the Republican party. I do. I always have," he added. "And I have issues with the extreme left of the Democrat party. I always have. But I don't know if I really have issues with what you'd call the extreme segment of the Libertarian party.”